On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd discussed an NBC poll that shows 70% of Americans say government isn’t working and commented that because of the “Tea Party crowd,” Republicans can no longer “go home and sell a piece of of pork that they got from Washington.” That’s a good thing.
In the above video, Todd notes:
The message of the Tea Party saying that government doesn’t work … and we have to shrink the size of government is tapping into what we were just discussing before which is this … I want to go to something E.J. said about the Republican Party. I think the most striking thing about the minority party today is that a Republican can’t go home, and it is mostly because of this Tea Party crowd, can not go home and sell a piece a pork that they got from Washington. It is now … when you bring home something, saying “Hey I brought federal dollars home to this,” you are on the defensive.”
Why is this such a sea change for the country? And why is this change such a positive development? First, in his book Government’s End: Why Washington Stopped Working, Jonathan Rauch explained why the current pro-pork way Washington works is so entrenched:
In The Logic of Collective Action, Olson showed that the free rider problem applies to private collective projects no less than to government. The bigger the class of people who benefit from collective action, the weaker the incentive for any particular beneficiary to join or organize, and thus the less likely that a group will coalesce. “In short,” wrote Olson, “the larger the group, the less it will further common interests.”
If that is true, the implications are unsettling. “Since relatively small groups will frequently be able to voluntarily to organize and act in support of their common interests,” Olson went on, “and since large groups normally will not be able to do so, the outcome of the political struggle among the various groups will not be symmetrical.” In other words, small, narrow groups have a permanent and inherent advantage, and “offer triumph over the numerically superior forces because the former are generally organized and active while the latter are normally unorganized and inactive.”
Rauch ends up taking a fatalistic view of whether Americans can ever overcome these forces. He concedes: “What you see now in Washington is basically what you will get for a very long time to come, even though many people, in fact probably a majority of people, may both wish and vote for something different.”
But if Todd’s assessment of how the Tea Party is already changing behavior in Washington is right, and if incumbents are beginning to see (like Sen. Ben Nelson now does) that winning narrow loopholes and subsidies for your state will actually hurt, not help, you at the polls, then maybe there is hope for our republic yet.